Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Herman, Morton Earle (Mick) (1907–1983)

by Peter Reynolds

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Morton Earle (Mick) Herman (1907-1983), architect, historian and author, was born on 29 September 1907 at Woollahra, Sydney, and named Erskine Morton, second of three children of Joseph Earle Hermann, an English-born company promoter, and his wife Lily May, née Burghardy, born in New South Wales. After attending Randwick Public and Sydney Technical High schools, Morton won a scholarship to the University of Sydney (B.Arch., 1930), where he studied under Leslie Wilkinson. On graduating with first-class honours, he won the Australian medallion and the travelling scholarship of the New South Wales Board of Architects, and a steamship scholarship.

Six years of practice and study in England and Europe included working for the English architect and historian H. S. Goodhart-Rendel and for Robert Atkinson, with whom he established the Building Centre in London. As its first resident architect he was a pivotal figure in the Ideal Home Exhibition held in London in 1933.

Returning to Australia in 1937, Herman joined the architects Louis S. Robertson & Son, and remained with them until 1942. He married Laura (Barbara) McPhail, a stenographer, on 1 January 1938 at St James’s Church of England, Sydney. During World War II, working with the Allied Works Council, he designed prefabricated hospitals and warehouses for transportation in Liberty ships for the United States Army. After release from wartime duties, he entered sole private practice. In 1946 he joined the part-time staff of the Sydney Technical College at the invitation of Henry Pynor, head of the school of architecture. Known as `Mick’, Herman taught history, design and mechanics, and continued to do so when the school was absorbed by the University of Technology (later University of New South Wales) in 1949. For many years the college had conducted an architecture course at the Newcastle Technical College. In 1948, travelling regularly from Sydney, Herman revitalised what had become a professionally disregarded course. His work allowed a smooth takeover when the first permanent head was appointed in 1957.

During his student days, although a modernist, he had been inspired by the work of Hardy Wilson to spend his spare time drawing colonial buildings around Sydney. Where Hardy Wilson had glossed over blemishes in the buildings, Herman recorded their extant state by executing accurate measured studies. His work had become the basis of his graduation thesis from the University of Sydney and had ultimately led to his first book, The Early Australian Architects and Their Work (1954). This seminal publication gave a foundation to the study of Australian architectural history. Fearing the destruction of postwar Sydney by development, he published The Architecture of Victorian Sydney (1956). The Blackets (1963) established the significance of Edmund Thomas Blacket in Australian architecture. A projected book on John Horbury Hunt, for which he had executed drawings, never eventuated. Many articles featuring modernist-style buildings and urging retention of significant structures appeared in 1937-75.

Herman was chairman of the Sir John Sulman architectural award jury (1937-40, 1953); president of the Modern Architectural Research Society (1939-40); fellow (1951) and federal councillor (1955-59) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects; councillor of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1954-58, 1963-66); and a member of the building advisory committee of the City of Sydney (1937-48), the historic buildings committee of the Cumberland County Council, and the Society of Architectural Historians (US).

In 1958 Herman was appointed visiting lecturer in the history of architecture and examiner in design for the extension board at the University of Melbourne, which conferred on him the degree of master of architecture in 1960. The University of Newcastle, where he had been a part-time lecturer, awarded him an honorary D.Litt. in 1966. The `father of architectural history and conservation in this country’ was appointed AM in 1979.

Divorced in 1970, from about 1975 Herman went into a serious decline while living at Kings Cross. One consequence was the dispersal of most of his papers and architectural drawings. About 1979, Philip Cox, a Sydney architect, moved him to the A. C. Mackie Nursing Home at Paddington and contributed to his maintenance. Herman died there on 25 March 1983 and, survived by his daughter, was buried in Botany cemetery. The Morton Herman prize in architecture at the University of New South Wales recognises the best performance in studies of historic structures.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Donaldson and D. Morris, Architecture Newcastle (2001)
  • Architecture in Australia, vol 56, no 1, 1967, p 77, vol 73, no 3, 1984, p 31
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Aug 1937, p 8, 31 Mar 1983, p 8
  • H. de Berg, interview with M. Herman (transcript, 1972, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Reynolds, 'Herman, Morton Earle (Mick) (1907–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/herman-morton-earle-mick-12625/text22745, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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